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Walter BRAUNFELS (1882-1954)
String Quartet No. 1 in A minor, Op. 60 'Verkündigung' [27:48]
String Quartet No. 2 in F major, Op. 61 [31:23]
Auryn Quartett (Matthias Lingenfelder, Jens Opperman (violins); Steuart Eaton (viola); Andreas Arndt (cello))
rec. 1996, Immanuelskirche, Wuppertal, Germany
CPO 999406-2 [59:14]

As the Braunfels renaissance gathers pace, CPO have just reissued the Auryn Quartet's recording of the first two String Quartets, first released in 1998. I, for one, am pleased, as this deleted disc has been very difficult to come by. As a ‘half Jew’ (Braunfels turned to Catholicism in 1918) his promising career was summarily bought to a halt by the rise of Hitler in 1933. Initially he had to relinquish his posts and this was followed in 1938 by a performing ban on his music. These traumatic events had a profound influence on him as a composer. Between 1933-1945 his previous late Romantic style underwent a significant development, resulting in his music becoming more introspective, no doubt reflecting his personal situation and feelings at the time. Even with his reinstatement after the war, he was never fully accepted, and he died in relative obscurity. The reappraisal and rehabilitation of his music of late, is something very much to be welcomed.

Braunfels composed three String Quartets, the first two were written in 1944, and premiered in Cologne two years later in 1946. The composer purloined much thematic material from his opera Verkündigung (Annunciation) for the First Quartet. A trumpet motif from the opening of the opera heralds in the first subject of the opening movement. The slow movement is wistful and melancholic, and perhaps is a reflection of the loneliness and isolation the composer was experiencing. A sprightly Scherzo with a trio, delicately scored, precedes a genial finale, where some rays of sunlight illuminate the landscape.

Although the Second Quartet reveals its secrets more readily it doesn’t quite match the First in terms of emotional breadth. After an intensely lyrical first movement, the Scherzo this time comes second. Its congenial, jaunty rhythms are uplifting. A beguiling melody breaks in halfway through, before the jaunty rhythm returns. The Adagio, slightly hesitant in pace, is tinged with sadness, and seems to probe the deeper recesses. The last movement is animated and suffused with verve, vigour and graceful charm.

The Auryn Quartett have amassed a pretty sizeable and impressive discography over the years since they first formed in 1981. The performances here don’t disappoint, and their polished readings show a great level of commitment. Their warmth and clarity is a joy. CPO have done chamber music lovers an appreciable service in reissuing this recording with a top notch liner to boot.

Stephen Greenbank